In a few days’ time, Liverpool play Tottenham Hotspurs in the 2019 UEFA Champions League final at the Estadio Metropolitano in Madrid, Spain.
Bloody slap me, I must be dreaming.
This Liverpool side has shown a never-say-die spirit and enough passion to knock out the likes of Bayern Munich, FC Porto and most recently, Lionel Messi’s Barcelona.
With an all-English final against Spurs the last hurdle between the Reds and ultimate glory, we’ve laid out a tactical analysis ahead of what promises to be an end-to-end encounter at Madrid.
Both teams come into the game with key players in race against time to be fit for the final.
Liverpool hope to have Roberto Firmino fully fit after a late-season muscle issue, while Naby Keita appears the only player completely ruled out of the final with a groin injury.
Spurs on the other hand, will likely have the majority of their players passed fit, with Harry Kane arguably the biggest boost.
Liverpool XI: Alisson, Robertson, van Dijk, Matip, Alexander-Arnold, Milner, Fabinho, Henderson, Mané, Firmino, Salah
Spurs XI: Lloris, Rose, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Trippier, Alli, Sissoko, Eriksen, Moura, Son, Kane
Exploit the high line
Spurs love playing a high defensive line to get more bodies forward, especially when they are controlling play.
Jürgen Klopp will need to set up positional traps along Spurs’ fullback areas, as they are known for having their fullbacks quite high up the pitch — especially Kieran Tripper on the right.
These traps can be effective on counter attacks, as they enable the wide forwards to drag one of the Spurs ‘s centrebacks out of position to create spaces at the heart of defence.
Use the first 10 minutes to study the fullbacks
Spurs are a side that have problems defending from fullback areas.
Firmino’s opener in the league game at Anfield was a clear example.
The play was concentrated on the left, with Trippier well advanced on the right. The moment the ball was switched to the opposite wing, Andrew Robertson had acres of spaces and enough time to cross for Firmino to nod home.
In the first half of that contest, Liverpool completely exploited that wing but failed to capitalise with another goal.
Liverpool need to study Spurs fullbackss for the first 10 to 15 minutes and exploit them, especially if Mauricio Pochettino goes with three at the back.
Create 1-v-1 situations in the wide areas
One of Spurs’ biggest strengths is their attack in wide areas through their fullbacks. Tripper and Danny Rose are excellent going forward but average at recovering.
Liverpool need to create 1-v-1 situations with Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah against the two fullbacks to pin them in own half.
By doing this, Liverpool can restictt a major attacking outlet for Spurs.
Accelerate the passing
Spurs are not the best at maintaining a solid defensive shape when the opposition passes are swift and smooth.
Ajax consistently exploited this in the semi-final.
Liverpool need to keep the ball moving at a quick tempo and use intelligent movement to open them up down the middle.
Play a mature game
This team has grown from last year’s final at Kiev. They weren’t tagged “favourites” in that game but they come into this year’s final with a deserved advantage.
Klopp needs to ensure his troops approach the game with a clear and matured mindset.
It’s time to show how much they’ve evolved.
Conversely, Spurs are in the much the same situation Liverpool found themselves in last year. It’s biggest game in their history — might they crack?
Create road blocks down the middle
Spurs are quite good at creating chances down the middle when Lucas Moura starts. His movement with and without the ball are fantastic, with the second leg against Ajax showing how dangerous he is from the middle.
Position Fabinho down the middle properly to minimize the options centrally and force play wide.
Destroy their right channel
Liverpool need to shut down Spurs’ right-hand side in defense.
They love to attack through Tripper and Heung-min Son, as the former is a near excellent crosser of the ball while the latter thrives on both movement and trickery.
Mane will need to pin Tripper back whenever possible while Robertson will need every last ounce of recovery pace.
Protect the full-backs
One of Liverpool’s main strengths this season has been their attack from the full-backs out wide. Both Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have double assist digits, with the latter notching a pair in the semi-final comeback against Barcelona at Anfield.
Both full-backs need protection when they are forward and this is where starting James Milner comes into play. Milner has served as a makeshift full-back since joining Liverpool and he understands the position well enough.
Once one full-back is down the pitch, Milner can serve as cover in that vacated space, making it harder to Spurs to exploit in transition.
Press from the front
The front three will have to make it very difficult for the Spurs back five to play out from the back.
They must cut off passing lanes for Hugo Lloris to his defenders while marking out the easiest options. The hope is to either make Spurs play short into dangerous, pressurized areas, or play long where Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk can contest aerial battles.
On their day, no one in world football defends from the front better than Liverpool’s famed trio.
Avoid silly second balls
Matip and van Dijk will need to make sure every aerial ball is properly cleared, while Fabinho will need to be very strong on the ball not to give away possession.
This might be an easier task if Pochettino opts to start with Kane on the bench, but having Kane plus Fernando Llorente as sub options makes for a potent “plan B” if Spurs find themselves chasing the game.
Spurs punished Ajax for silly second balls, with Moura’s second goal a key example, with the Brazilian punishing a tangle between Andre Onana and Lasse Schone.
Moura’s clinching goal also came from a second ball. Fernando Llorente knocked down a lofted ball toward the edge of the box for the onrushing Moura to take past his man and score.
The two centre-backs will need to clear the aerial balls intelligently and/or convincingly to avoid chaos in the box, while Fabinho mustn’t be caught on the ball in his own end
Be street wise
Look no further than Moura’s equalizer at Anfield in the league.
The goal was quick and smart, but far too easy. Kane had license to take a quick free-kick, while Robert. When there is a chance a promising quick free-kick, delay it. If the game is getting on a player (particularly Dele Alli), exploit it. It’s a final, be smart and win the cup.